Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Western Chuckwalla - Corn Springs

The chuckwalla has long been one of my favorite lizards. This past Saturday, June 13, I saw four of them near Corn Springs, in the Chuckwalla Mountains, more than I've ever seen in one day before. Of course, I recently did a post on the chuckwalla after seeing three in one day in the same area. 
The first chuckwalla I saw was on some red rock high above me. 
It was in the vicinity of some Native American petroglyphs, visible to the left. 
I got out of my car and walked up the side of the rocks to a vantage point where I was on the same level. The back and belly are red and it still retains stripes on its tail. I walked up very slowly, stopping for long periods and was able to get quite close. 
When I got too close it disappeared for a minute, then emerged again to look at me.
They are quite curious. 
He has a grizzled looking head. 
He eventually settled in this crack.
There are six species of chuckwalla, but the most dominant species in the vicinity to where we live is the common chuckwalla. The common chuckwalla has four subspecies, the most prevalent being the western chuckwalla, found in southeastern California, southern Nevada, extreme southern Utah, western Arizona and down into the eastern Baja California peninsula. 
The second chuckwalla I saw was pretty close to the first one. I could see it while I was looking at the other. He has a beautiful red belly. 
I didn't try to get any closer to this one because I'd spent so much time looking at the first one. 
Here he is looking down at me as I left.
The chuckwalla reaches a length of 20 inches and can weigh up to 2 pounds. Its body is flat, it has a rounded belly and loose folds of skin on its neck and sides. The tail is broad with a blunt tip. When threatened it enters a crevice between rocks and inflates its lungs with air, wedging the lizard tightly in place. They are diurnal and can be active in temperatures up to 102 degrees F. Their color varies by location, between males and females and between adults and young. Adult males usually have a black head, chest and limbs, but sometimes spotted and flecked with gray. The rest of the body is red or light gray, except the tail which is pale yellow. Adult females are more brown with a scattering of dark red spots. Young chuckwallas have four or five broad bands across their body and three or four bands on the tail. Males usually lose all of the bands, but females often retain the tail bands.  
The third chuckwalla I saw was high in the rocks and I did not try getting any closer. Besides, it did not have the beautiful red back or belly. 
The Chuckwalla Mountains are in the Colorado Desert section of the Sonoran Desert. They are about 40 miles long and run in a northwest to southeast direction. I-10 is to the north and the town of Desert Center, and the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range is to the south. The Orocopia Mountains are to the west, Joshua Tree NP is to the northwest (on the other side of I-10) and the Little Chuckwalla Mountains are to the southeast. The Chuckwalla Mountains Wilderness Area was established in 1994 over most of the range. Motorized travel is only allowed on designated roads, including the eight mile dirt road into Corn Springs. The mountains were named after the chuckwalla, prevalent in them. It is also an area with lots of desert tortoises, rosy boas and kangaroo rats. 
The fourth chuckwalla was relatively close to the road and about my height, so I got a good view of it. 

I got out of the car to go closer to it and it made a very aggressive run toward me, as though it was going to jump off the rock, and it aggressively bobbed up and down.

As I got closer it eventually crawled up a rock and into an opening and disappeared. 


  1. It would be interesting to know how old some of the most grizzled looking ones are. They look ancient.

  2. What was the species of the one you caught?

    1. The one I caught was the first one above.